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I'm used to people asking me how anybody manages to raise eight kids. But as our kids grow up into something other than kids, I wonder how people who have raised only one or two children manage when they leave home. Our house is now at half strength. Two of our children are adults, and two more are now residents of that half-way house to adulthood called college. That leaves us with a scant four kids at home. And while I know that four is more than the norm, to me at this moment it feels like practically none at all.
When the oldest few left, we still had lots of others left behind. But with Katerina's departure this week, the whole tone of our house has changed. We're back to where we were when she was born, except that we're not the same people--or parents--we were then. We're getting older, and the kids are too.
I'm happy to see our children grow up and go off to become the people they were created to be. But I miss them too. When we kept having kids, I wondered what in the world our lives would be like with all of them. Now I'm wondering how our lives will be like without them. Things are changing for us. The child raising project that has been the centerpiece of our lives has peaked. In another eight or ten years, it will pass.
Things do change. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to hold on, you just have to let go. When Katerina was only one month old, our family rented a historical society barn, and invited people to a chicken dinner, Mass and inspirational concert. "The Barn" has been part of our family life for over fifteen years. We've worked on tickets, graphic arts, and concert themes, kitchen, sound and lighting together. All of us have looked forward to the "midnight donut run" after everything has been cleaned up.
Some years we've sweated out whether or not we would cover costs. Other years, we've struggled to keep up with orders left on our answering machine. We chose to go ahead with the concert within two weeks of 9-11. We skipped a year once a few years back. But this year, because renting the barn is now five times more expensive than when we first rented it in 1992, we've decided that the annual Loves and Fishes Barn Concert isn't going to happen. If the event does make a comeback, it is unlikely to be held in the barn that gave the event its atmosphere as well as its name.
There's a time to let go and move on to the next thing; most of us do it almost daily without thinking. We notice it, however, when moving on involves people or things to which we have become attached. We are created for loving attachment. It isn't wrong for us to bond to our family or friends, town or school, profession or work. Yet Jesus tells us that if we come to Him "without hating father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even [our] own life," we are not suited to be His disciples. He said much the same thing to those who, after putting a hand to the plow, look back.
These sentiments seem out of sync with the gentle and compassionate voice many of us expect will come from the God who teaches us to call Him "Father." But I think the Lord counsels us to let go and trust Him because that is the only way we can hope to follow Him at all. Our God is alive and moving. When we don't move with Him, we miss the joy of following a God who is always doing something new.
Ultimately, no matter how wonderful our lives have been or how generous God has been to us, faith assures us that the best is still ahead. In order to embrace it, we will have to let go of everyone and everything but God Himself. All the things we detach from now, all the changes we weather, these are merely practice for the times we are called to lay this life down and take hold of the next.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.